For a subject that started as a spat over the use of two-way radios in races the breakdown in communication between the UCI and the major teams is not without its irony. The teams say radios are crucial for safety and strategy, but communication between teams and the UCI is broken down.
Earlier this week the majority of top teams walked out of a meeting with the UCI. For me this was a theatrical stunt which won’t fix anything. For the team representatives no doubt it was too much to sit though a lengthy session only to find the issue most relevant to them… hardly merited a mention.
Worse, things are now speeding towards disaster. The teams, via their AIGCP group, have hired a London-based public relations company. You don’t engage an agency like this just to distribute emails, they are there to help position the AIGCP and in PR-speak to “shape the debate”. But it should be noted too that the UCI has also quietly hired a PR agency too.
But it’s not about who’s hired who. For me, 90% of the time these agencies issue wooden press releases. You’ve now doubt read a lot of them, perhaps without knowing it. When a new product is launched and someone proclaims “I’m delighted to be working with Company X… their products will give us a real competitive advantage” you can pretty sure this inane quote was drafted by a junior PR staffer. Nobody talks like this in the real world.
No, the arrival of these agencies suggests three things. First, both sides are settling in for a long war where taking public opinion is essential. Second, that money is at stake, these people don’t come cheap. Finally it could be recognition that each side has some walking and talking liabilities when it comes to the public relations game, the most obvious example is the UCI’s Pat McQuaid. A very effective communicator over a expenses-paid lunch but woeful in front of a microphone. Professional agencies won’t engage in on the record “well I won’t comment but let me just say that I think that so-and-so is a little son of a”. You get the picture.
It’s hard to say. The things which need to be done are not being done. Instead we’ve got a chaotic situation where nothing is going to plan.
What should be done?
I’ve said before that the UCI’s best option was to concede over the use of radios and to invite them into the mysterious decision-making process in Aigle… but to slam the door in the teams’ face over anything more.
You don’t need to be Gary Kasparov to grasp that allowing the use of radios would silence a lot of riders (and their twitter accounts), thus removing one large chunk of vocal criticism. Inviting the AIGCP to the table for decisions on the World Tour is good, after all the teams pay heavily for the licence. And in no time many team managers would get bored of panel meetings, council sessions and steering committees.
By ceding to some of the concessions would allow the UCI to silence a lot of the critics whilst stitching up the teams with the detail. For example the teams could attend meetings but would not have a majority of votes over the outcome, they could simply be brought into the process.
It’s assuming a lot but if done sneakily, a Machiavellian UCI could come out stronger, bringing the teams into the fold but locking them into the process. But we’re far from here.